September 30, 2013

Loran Smith: Drew is country strong

— Men who are Ray Drew’s size — the University of Georgia junior defensive lineman is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 276 pounds — seem just the type to excel in the NFL, which is the objective of the affable Bulldog from Thomasville.

After seeing intermittent playing time his first two years, Drew is starting this year. In addition to his on-field achievements, he is an interesting personality off of it. He has an easygoing style and a gentlemanly manner, which puts him at odds with the temperament required to succeed in the violent world of college football, where he and countless others prep for play-for-pay league opportunity.

There are many sides to this likable — even lovable — man.  When he is not concentrating on stopping the run and/or sacking quarterbacks, you may find him in a duck blind, out fishing for a bass dinner or in the kitchen preparing a weekend meal for a teammate. All the while, he is likely to be listening to country music.

It is not so unusual that he is an advocate of hunting and fishing — how could you hail from Thomasville and not be? — and cooking. But an African-American kid hooked on country music? As he explains how all that happened, he offers — while wearing a wide grin — that he is not ready to go on tour.

“I think you should know,” he said, “that a good friend heard me sing and said, ‘You’re no Charlie Pride.’”

He does own a guitar, and he can be found sitting and picking a few tunes. He might even be in concert with a few teammates who sing along with him. Ray and Chris Conley, Georgia’s multi-faceted wide receiver, sometimes enjoy something of a jam session.

Conley, his first roommate at Georgia, has come to appreciate country music after his exposure to Ray. Conley plays guitar and the piano.

“There are times,” Drew said, “when he plays and I sing.”

Drew knows the history of country music and is familiar with the iconic names of the business, the legends and the unforgettable superstars — from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard to Conway Twitty. Country lyrics captivated Ray long ago. When he hears a country song, he listens to what the artist is saying. More often than not he finds there is a fascinating and intriguing message.

His first connection with country music came when he was picking vegetables one morning with his younger brother Devin, who didn’t want to get his hands dirty. Ray wanted to harass Devin and found a country station and turned up the volume full blast. It was Jerry Reed singing an all-time country favorite, “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”

As he listened to the lyrics, Drew became a convert.

“I wanted the joke to be on my brother,” Ray said, “but it turned out to be on me. Now I am happy about the way it turned out.”

His favorite artist is a good friend, Luke Bryan of Leesburg. He sometimes hangs with Jason Aldean and Thomas Rhett. When he was an eighth-grader, he met Dallas Davidson, a songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. Ray couldn’t ask enough questions.

There are other interests in the life of this communication major who sings in the choir back home. He is learning sign language, fills the pulpit on occasion (he is a licensed minister) and has a deep and abiding passion for history.

With his hot plate in his apartment, he can cook up a mean supper for his teammates, but if you want the best of Ray Drew’s kitchen expertise, invite him to grill a steak.

“Not many people can grill a steak like me,” he said as he explained how he marinates the meat with garlic seasoning and A-1 steak sauce overnight and adds Worcestershire sauce the next day just before putting it on the grill.

If he invites you to dinner, he may prepare something from the family recipe book (you only have access to the cookbook if you are a member of the family). Ray has committed many of the recipes to memory — just as he has the lyrics to Luke Bryan’s hit, “Drunk on You.”

“Cottonwood fallin’ like snow in July,

Sunset, riverside, four-wheel drives,

In a tail light circle,

Roll down the windows, turn it on up,

Pour a little Crown in a Dixie cup,

Get the party started.”

However, the party most prominent on Ray’s mind is the one he would host for his teammates if Georgia were to win a football championship.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at